The horse industry plays an important role in Virginia’s agricultural and economic landscape with some 41,000 horse farms and a $1.2 billion impact on the state’s economy overall. While the industry has continued to grow despite a rise in land costs and diminishing acreage, horse owners and farm managers need innovative solutions to maximize the health and well-being of their horses and the land. To address these needs, The Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center and the National Sporting Library & Museum teamed up to present a new program “Spotlight on Stewardship: Equine Land Management Symposium” on June 26 – 27. The event combined the latest in scientific research with hands-on learning experiences and the inimitable richness of Middleburg’s equestrian culture. About 75 equine enthusiasts from the mid-Atlantic region enjoyed participating in the dynamic symposium on land stewardship that spanned two days and included sessions at both locations. “Judging from the enthusiasm surrounding the symposium and the popular feedback we are continuing to receive, we are confident that this will become an annual event,” said Bridgett McIntosh, Extension equine specialist at the MARE Center, who was responsible for organizing the event. The MARE Center’s mission, as part of the state’s land grant Cooperative Extension research farms, is to improve equine management while enhancing land stewardship. Given the MARE Center’s scenic location in the heart of Virginia’s horse country, an event combining cutting-edge scientific knowledge with the richness of local equestrian and rural culture was a natural fit. The symposium covered a host of topics centered on equine and environmental health. The first day laid the groundwork with talks about preserving open space and managing equine farms for soil and water conservation. The next day, speakers delved into the history of pasture management in the region, using pasture-based nutrition in breeding operations, and situations in which pasture alone isn’t enough for horses.
Fittingly, among invited guest speakers were alumni of the Virginia Tech MARE Center including Amy Burk, associate professor and Extension specialist, University of Maryland; Kathleen Crandell, equine nutritionist, Kentucky Equine Research; Burt Staniar, associate professor of equine science, Pennsylvania State University; Carey Williams, associate Extension specialist and associate professor, Rutgers University; and Tania Cubitt, equine nutritionist, performance horse nutrition. Following lectures both mornings at the National Sporting Library & Museum, hands-on workshops were held at the MARE Center each afternoon led by natural resource and forage professionals from Virginia Cooperative Extension and other state organizations. Participants learned about a diverse array of equine land management issues including soil health, water quality, and pasture management in an applicable field setting. Tours of both sites, optional trips to wine tasting at Boxwood Winery via a hayride and an “Open Late” Virginia Tech Alumni Night at the National Sporting Library with the Piedmont Symphony Orchestra were also part of the event. A planned outing to a polo match has been rescheduled for Aug. 8 due to rain, but the wet weather did nothing to dampen participants’ spirits: “I would deem every speaker, topic, and all materials absolutely first rate!” one participant concluded.